Dear Authors: Cut Down on the Turning

Turning. We all do it. Throughout our days, our commutes, our hokey-pokeys.  We turn this way and that as we go about our lives, zigzagging through the years like a hockey puck.

But I’m finding that many characters are doing way too much turning these days:

Juliet whispered Romeo’s name. He turned and walked over to her.

Joey’s mother called him from the open window. He turned and said, “I’ll be right there.”

Turns may be a part of life, but that does not mean you have to mention all of them in your book. Turning is one of those actions that’s understood by the reader even if you don’t write it. Kind of like when a character walks down the street. Do you write that he is putting one foot in front of the other? Or that he is bending his legs at the knee to do so? That’s extraneous information.

For example:

The doorbell rang.  Guy Fieri turned and walked over to the peephole to see who it was.

The doorbell rang. Guy Fieri walked over to the peephole to see who it was.

Now, the only extra bit of info the first sentence gives us was that the poor sap wasn’t facing in the right direction when the doorbell rang. But is this so important that the reader has to know this? When Guy discovers no one at the door, will he TURN back the other way and walk into the kitchen? Well, he will, but does the author have to mention it?

Turning is one of the surest identifiers of the newbie author. Turns clog our manuscripts with unnecessary words. A good idea is to do a search for all the turn mentions in your book. What would your text be like without the word? Take it out. Does your sentence have the same meaning? My hunch is that unless your character is doing things like turning off the television or turning red with embarrassment, it will.

Handling Criticism from Author-Friends

Chances are your closest family members will love whatever it is you have written — even if it’s just a shopping list. They love you and, in turn, will love it.

But what about your author-friends? Those people who, like you, pen books? Many of my friends, who are authors themselves, have taken the time to read Baby Grand — out of the legions of books out there — and I am truly grateful for their time and their support. Many times, these author-friends will have positive comments (yay!) or have questions about plot and character and back story (that I love to answer!). But, other times, author-friends have had criticisms. And because they are authors themselves, we tend to take these critical comments — which can be very specific and very insightful — seriously. One author-friend went as far as sending me an email itemizing all the “errors” he said he found in Baby Grand. Now, THAT was a fun day. :)

Okay, so what do you do when faced with such criticism. What did I do on that fateful day I received an innocuous-looking email with the subject line: BABY GRAND? Did I open up a can of whoop-ass on him? Tell him he was ugly and his mother dressed him funny? No. Actually, I did nothing. There’s nothing TO do. Damn, I may have even thanked him for his time.

But, why?

Well, first of all, I do believe — with all my heart — that, despite the laundry list of “errors” he was kind enough to send me, this person had my best interests at heart. After all, he is my friend.

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Don’t Let a Few Beta Readers Throw You Off Course

In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard from no fewer than three fellow authors talk about reworking their books, second-guessing their instincts, or scrapping their manuscripts altogether based on comments from a few beta readers. Now while I’m the first to admit that novel writing is a two-way street — books are meant to be read and loved and cherished by other people or else we’re simply writing diary entries — I am seeing authors put way too much emphasis on early reader input.

I can hand Baby Grand to 10 people and get 10 different opinions about it — all of them valid, of course, because reading is very subjective and personal, but that doesn’t mean that I, as the author, should be adapting my book to honor each and every one of them. As with parenting, I think ideally we should listen to what everybody has to say, but only put into use what resonates with us. After all, these are YOUR characters. This is YOUR story. We don’t just toss our kids out the window when they aren’t to others’ liking.

Listening to input is great and helpful, but it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for your own instincts. You cannot make everyone happy. Only yourself.

This discussion brings to mind an article I recently read in the New York Times about actor Zach Braff crowdfunding his latest film, Wish I Was Here. The crowdfunding aspect aside, I loved this quote from Braff about the final cut of his film, which, by the way, received lukewarm reviews by critics: “I can say wholeheartedly that it is a full articulation of what we wanted to say.”

THAT is what I think we should be striving for as novelists. Is this book a full articulation of what I wanted to say?

If it is, and a few beta readers aren’t getting it, the answer may be to get new beta readers rather than a new manuscript.

 

#PubSmartCon Pieces: Buying Reviews

During PubSmart, there was lots of talk about discoverability — how readers discover our books and how we can help them discover our books. While there was pretty much a consensus that word-of-mouth is still king when it comes to discoverability, there are a variety of ways to get our books into readers’ hands.

One way is by buying pre-publication reviews. Personally, I’m still on the fence about paying for reviews. I’m not so sure a (paid for) Kirkus Review holds more weight than a (free) Goodreads or an Amazon review for the majority of thriller readers, but I do know several authors who utilize reviews as a marketing tool and have had good experiences.

How much do reviews for self-published books cost? Here are three examples that were mentioned during a panel discussion:

Cost of review from Kirkus: $425

Cost of review from BlueInk Reviews: $395

Cost of review from Publishers Weekly’s PW Select: $149

Also, during the conference’s luncheon, I sat next to a woman named Kiffer Brown, president of a company called Chanticleer Book Reviews & Media, which also offers review opportunities. As with crowdfunding, which I discussed yesterday, I don’t know if I’m ready to shell out the cash yet for this service, but it’s nice to know it’s out there if we authors need it.

Have you paid for any reviews for your book? Which ones? What has your experience been?

 

#PubSmartCon Pieces: PubSlush

Amanda Barbara was the first person I met at PubSmart last week. My friend and I had just arrived at the Francis Marion Hotel and bumped into her on our way to our first master class. Turns out, Amanda is the vivacious co-founder and vice president of PubSlush, a crowdfunding company geared specifically to the literary world.

I know what you’re thinking… Crowdfunding???? Trust me. I’m not a fan of asking people for money either, but after hearing Amanda out, I have to say I’m intrigued.

During a panel about Authorpreneurship, Amanda explained that Pubslush, in addition to raising funds for your publishing efforts, is a platform that can help you:

  • Collect pre-orders;
  • Market your book pre-publication;
  • Build your reader database; and
  • Gain valuable insight into your audience with market analytics.

Amanda describes it as “reward-based crowdfunding.” In exchange for a donation, authors can offer anything from bookmarks and personalized thank-you notes to free books or Skype chats with book clubs. Interested authors can sign up for an account using the promo code PubSmartCon to receive The Guide: Tips To Successful Crowdfunding, an informative manual created by Pubslush for their authors.

It’s definitely worth checking out, no matter what your feelings are about hitting up folks for cash.

#PubSmartCon Pieces: Jane Friedman

Last week, I attended the inaugural PubSmart conference — an unprecedented gathering of publishing professionals who really are some of the smartest on the planet — in chilly (where were the warm temps??) Charleston, South Carolina. The participants came from all aspects of publishing: self publishing, traditional, small press and hybrid. As a journalist and author, I’ve been to quite a few of these things, and I truly was blown away by the value of the information presented as well as the generosity of spirit of the event’s keynoters, panelists and organizers. (Hugh Howey, the bestselling author who served as one of the keynoters of the conference, is not only a savvy author, but he just might be the most gracious one I’ve ever seen, stopping to answer questions for anyone who asked one. Very cool.) By the time I got on my flight back to New York on Friday, my brain was heavy with all sorts of actionable information.

Today, I’d like to share pieces of Jane Friedman‘s enlightening keynote address titled, “What does it mean to publish?”

  • 25 percent of the top 100 books on Amazon last year were self-published. “This would have been unfathomable at the beginning of my career,” Friedman said.
  • Publishing used to have a scarcity of content and a controlled environment, but now there’s an abundance of content and a scarcity of attention.
  • Through the 20th century, to print something was to amplify it. Not so today. There’s too many competing printed materials. Then whose job is amplification. The traditional role of the publisher was:
    –Gatekeeping and editorial. But… gatekeeping is broken. People are self-publishing en masse. Quality is not a useful debate to have anymore, because we’re not going back to the way it was.
    –Distribution. But… distribution is no longer of value anymore in the eBook world. I distribute. You distribute. Mobile is important to the future of reading. It is a myth that what we have to say has to be in book form. We’re slowly coming out of that cultural myth and moving into trans media: how one story can be told in many different ways.
    –Marketing/Publicity. But… it is now about lifetime marketing. The conversation never stops. Authors have direct engagement with readers. The sales life of a book is no longer a few months, but forever.
  • Free has become the tool of the unknown author who is looking for a readership. “Loyalty comes first,” Friedman says. “Monetization comes afterward.” For example, she said, “I haven’t paid a dime for Candy Crush. You can download it for free, but if you run out of lives, you have to pay 99 cents. Now, the company that produces Candy Crush is valued at billions.”

 

Marketing Tip #7: Make It as Easy as Possible for People to Join Your Email List

text2join_signNowadays, we’re all so crazy busy that if something can’t be done simply and lickety-split (make a recipe, record on our DVR) we won’t do it. This makes assembling an email list an arduous task — not only do you have to entice folks to want to join your list, but you have to make it easy peasy or risk losing them. Therefore, with whatever email marketing company you use (I use Constant Contact), make sure you take full advantage of all the services offered, particularly social media integration since Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al, is where many of us spend so much of our time these days. Yesterday, I (finally!) implemented the texting option for my email list so that readers are able to send a text message — my name — to 22828, input their email address when prompted, and, voila, join my list. I don’t know what took me so long to do this, but I’m glad I finally did.

Do you have a text option for people to join your list? You should.